This post is inspired by/in response to a post by my dear friend and sister.
Yesterday, Leslie posted an entry about the time and effort she has spent straitening her hair to conform to European standards of beauty. I am honored that she chose to use a picture of me as an example of a curly girl that she respects. The post got me to thinking about my hair. It has been a topic of conversation my entire life, so is never far from my mind.
Growing up, I was one of those curly-haired brown girls whose mom wasn’t quite sure what to do with my hair. Had we lived in a more diverse community, I am sure my mom would have caught all of the side-eyes from women of color much like the looks that Derrick from Grey’s Anatomy received when Zola’s hair looked a mess when they first adopted her and before Bailey stepped him to teach him all of the lessons about hair. Thankfully, that never happened. What did happen was that since my mother didn’t know how to take care of my hair, it was kept very short for most of my early years. When I say short, I mean box or mini fro. In second grade, I randomly decided to grow my hair out.
I’d like to take the opportunity to formally apologize to my mother for making that decision. I wanted long hair, but was completely incapable of caring for it myself so the job fell to my mom. Every morning before school, I would brace myself on the towel rack while she struggled to pull a brush through it. No amount of conditioner seemed to make it manageable, and once it was long enough to put it up I wore it in a messy bun almost every day. I didn’t like how big my hair got, so the answer was to mush it all together on top of my head. At one point, my mom paid for a “relaxer” that was supposed to loosen my curls into waves, but all it did was make my hair smell like chemical for a few days. In middle school, I discovered gel which lead to my crunchy curls phase that lasted well into college, unfortunately. Gel also contributed to a lot of crunchy, high ponytails for a few years.
Up to that point in my life, this list of product lines I had tried included:
Pantene Pro-V (both the lines for “ethnic” and curly hair)
Mane ‘n Tail
Redken (for curls)
Herbal Essence (for curly hair)
I’m sure I missed a few, but you can see that my parents paid an absurd amount of money for me to test out every salon grade product line I could get my hands on. Of course, none of it worked. The products either dried out my hair and turned it to curly straw or contained waxes that made it stiff and untouchable.
Junior year of college, I discovered Mixed Chicks hair care products and my life changed for the better. For the first time in my life, my curls were healthy and manageable. I swear by Mixed Chicks, and my mom often remarks on how much easier things would have been had such a product existed when I was growing up. I threw away all of my brushes, combs, and picks. I also do my best to try to get my hair cut by Deva Curl stylists. While I don’t use their products, having a stylist who is specially trained in cutting curly hair is life changing.
Now that I’ve broken down the history of my hair struggles, I’d like to respond to Leslie’s post (link at the beginning of this post, in case you forgot or missed it). Leslie discusses how (white) society tends to see curly, frizzy, big, natural, etc. hair as professional. Her way of dealing with this has been to straiten her hair. Because I am low maintenance when it comes to my hair or due to my history as an athlete/runner, or the fact that I didn’t even own a straightener until college (which has since been done away with), I have never been one to straighten my hair to appear more professional. My way of hiding my curls in more professional settings was always to put them up into a tight bun.
There were times in college I would straighten my hair for a program at work to appear “more Native” or for formal events because it was cheaper than paying for an updo. The process was so tedious that after my flat iron died, I never bothered to replace it. A few times, my arms got tired halfway through, and I would quit and just wash my hair curly again.
After college, in the midst of what I will call a crisis of change, I chopped off all of my hair into a short bob. As a result, I was forced to learn to love my curls for what they are. I couldn’t pull my hair back into a bun any more. I could barely pull half of it into a ponytail because it was so short. I am growing it out again, but I almost always keep it down now. I have reached a point in my life where anybody that doesn’t like it can suck it. I wouldn’t want to work somewhere that doesn’t embrace who am as a person, and my hair is a part of me.
I absolutely love my curls and wouldn’t trade them for anything.
I haven’t used heat on my hair since 2011.
My hair care routine is cleansing with Mixed Chicks sulfate-free shampoo once or twice a week followed by their leave-in conditioner. If I’m feeling fancy, I will use the hair silk as well.
I think of the biggest contributing factors to my learning to love them as much as I do is that I had to learn how to manage them almost entirely on my own. My parents had no clue. My stylist growing up had no clue. I grew up before the Natural Movement really got rolling, and even if it had been getting a lot of attention at the time, I was in South Dakota. Even now, most of the blogs and websites I find devoted to natural or curly hair don’t have many tips that I can use. My hair texture is different from almost everybody I have met in my life.
And you know what, I kind of like it that way.
Cheers to all the curly girls and guys!